A Materials Engineer Takes IPC's PCB Design I Course

In the last couple of years, IPC has heavily invested in providing continuing education for electronics engineering and manufacturing professionals through the IPC EDGE online learning platform. IPC EDGE synthesizes a live virtual classroom with comprehensive, hand-on projects and independent study to create a professional development experience that is indistinguishable from some of college courses that I took only a few years ago. 

And indeed, electing to take courses on IPC EDGE went above and beyond an ‘employee audit’ of the program: the PCB Design 1 course filled competency gaps that I needed to be a better standards development manager. Upon starting at IPC, I already had a firm grasp and of the physics of electronics, but my understanding was largely focused on IC-level circuits and their manufacture. As the manager of board design standards at IPC, I wanted to enhance my knowledge of board design so that I could better communicate with my committee members. Immediately after being given the opportunity, I enrolled in PCB Design I, the first in a series of board design courses intended to bolster any professional’s theoretical and practical knowledge of schematic capture and design documentation. 

By the second week of the course, we were building schematic and PCB libraries in the design authoring tool, with much of the lecture devoted to discussion of the various specifications that must be followed in order to build a compliant library. (I remember spending a bit of time working through the creation of surface-mount footprints per the IPC-7531 spec, which was exciting considering that I have sat in on many of those development meetings while training at IPC!) We then spent the middle of the course implementing these libraries in the design tool by creating the schematic pages, followed by studying the application of net classes and design rules to those pages. Towards the end of the course, we completed the study of schematics by generating documentation packages and finalizing the course-long project of preparing the schematics for a hypothetical FPGA unit. 

I was impressed by how flexible the instructor was and how willing he was to work with me and keep me up to speed. (I actually had to start the class one week late, and I was caught up in no time!) On top of that, while the course did have four hours’ worth of lectures each week, the assignments are designed to be self-paced: they are cumulative across the six weeks and you can work on them as your schedule allows throughout that time. As the course has no prerequisites, other than a basic understanding of electronics as it relates to printed boards, it is accessible for all skill levels and prior experiences. The class roster was made up of board designers, electrical engineers, production line managers, and engineering managers; and no question was considered ‘dumb’ – we all learned from one another’s experience. 

I highly recommend the PCB Design I course to anyone who wants to improve their understanding of this crucial phase of the board design process. And again, I do not just say this as an employee of IPC: I am usually very critical of professional development opportunities, but when comparing this course to other courses that I have taken as part of previous work positions, the PCB Design I course really does outshine the rest by orders of magnitude.